This is the latest installment in the “Try Looking At It Through My Eyes” challenge, as devised by Bold Kevin on his blog Voices of Glass. If you’ve missed any of the previous posts, you can read them via the links below. I’d also like to take the opportunity to apologise for the break in daily posting. Unfortunately, part and parcel of suffering from mental illness is that horrible thing known as a ‘bad day’; where someone’s mental health becomes so bad they find it difficult to function at a normal level. Well, I am currently in the midst of what it known as a ‘bad week‘. I’m doing my best to stop it developing into a ‘bad fortnight’ and will post as frequently as I’m able! :)
Day Four – “The Trade Off”
You walk into a fun fair or state fair and see a small tent entitled “The Trade Off”. Curious you go and look at the writing under the sign only to learn that for 1 dollar, euro or pound, you get to take a pill which will allow you to trade your mental health condition for another mental condition of your choosing for a whole week. The only rules are that you have to trade one for one and there are no returns until the end of that week. Would you do it, what would you choose and why?
However bizarre this answer may be, it is one I didn’t have to think about. I knew it before I even reached ‘the only rules are…’ sentence in the question.
Not only would I take advantage of the offer, I would keep taking advantage of the offer until I’d worked my way through the entire pantheon of psychiatric conditions.
When I was at school – beit Kindergarten, Primary or High – learning revolved around either hour-long lectures that were tediously boring and completely hands-off or re-writing passages from text books in our own words. Certainly, there were occasions when we were allowed to let our imaginations run wild with creative writing and/or creative essaying, but generally these flights of fancy were kept to a minimum. Personally, I found this had a severe impact on my education as I’ve always learnt better from actually doing or feeling something rather than merely reading or being told about it.
This is why I learnt more about Scotland in my four weeks backpacking the country than I had in the previous four years of reading about it. Although I enjoyed immersing myself in those tomes I found it difficult to recall or repeat any of the information I’d read. But now, if you were to ask me about Culloden, Scapa Flow, the Glencoe Massacre or the Loch Ness Monster, I could share hundreds of facts and historical anecdotes because I’ve walked the moor, stared at the wrecks, smelt the blood soaked earth and tasted the loch. My knowledge of these events are intrinsically anchored to my physical experiences of being there.
In fact, through my life, there are dozens of examples of where I fought though my anxiety to experience something purely so I could understand it better. From hurling my naked body into a deserted lake in the middle of the Rocky Mountains (so I could experience ‘freedom’) to allowing myself to be strapped to a birching block during a tour of a jail museum (so I could experience ‘captivity’). In fact, my 101 things to do before I die list is littered with things that I wish to experience purely because I want to know what they feel like, such as: go to university, spend the day on a nude beach, ride the Indian Pacific railway or some of the secretive password protected things.
Having spent the better part of the last five years researching and writing about mental illness, it frustrates me that there are certain illnesses that I will never truly understand. Although I know (only too well) what it’s like to battle the rapidly fluctuating mood swings of bipolar or the crippling panic attacks of social anxiety, I will never fully possess the knowledge of what it’s like to be lost in a paranoid schizophrenic delusion or confined by the all-controlling thoughts of anorexia nervosa, for this knowledge can only truly be gleaned from experience, not from the cold, dispassionate font of a text-book.
For someone obsessed with physical experiences, the opportunity to experience something I would never normally have the chance to, would be too great to resist. For my $1 (bargain!) I would begin by swapping bipolar for schizophrenia, then exchange schizophrenia for BPD or anorexia. Perhaps I would then swap my social anxiety for narcissistic personality disorder or PTSD for Misophonia. Whatever combination or order I would choose is largely irrelevant, all that matters is I would relish the opportunity to experience these conditions so I could increase my knowledge toward building greater empathy and understanding.
Some may think I’m mad to want to experience such potentially debilitating conditions for whatever reason.
Perhaps they’re right.